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Lusk Success: 30,000 Homes in 40 Years : Founder Quit Bank Job When It Put Home Loans on Hold

November 23, 1986

Lusk--as in the Lusk Co.--is a household word in the Southern California housing and construction industry.

Its imprint is on more than 30,000 homes and now, in its 40th anniversary year, the Irvine-based firm does more than $240 million worth of business annually in residential, commercial and industrial real estate and construction.

John Lusk, the energetic founder of the pioneer firm, has no intention of slowing down.

"In all those 40 years, I never spent much time looking back, and I don't intend to start now," he said. Reminiscence was the order at two events held over the past few days to celebrate the accomplishments of the company, from its meager start in post-World War II days to its present prominent position.

Critical Career Change

In 1946, Lusk, a vice president in a bank, made a critical career change.

His employer, uncertain about the economy, decided, unwisely, to hold off on all real estate loans--at a time when thousands of veterans were coming home, or coming to Southern California to make their new homes.

Lusk had a far more optimistic outlook for the future of the Southland and decided, since he could no longer make home loans, to become a home builder.

Leaving the banking business after 21 years, he began with the construction of custom homes in the high-rent district--Beverly Hills, Westwood and Bel-Air.

'Reach' Young Families

That success followed with a partnership arrangement with Fritz Burns, a prominent builder of that era, to build a 185-home tract in Arcadia. The dwellings were priced at $7,950 and are now valued at around $100,000.

That project allowed Lusk to "reach" those young families he had wanted to help at the bank with home loans. Most of them were newcomers with limited resources who wanted to buy and own a home.

Those early tract projects dramatized the primary goal that Lusk set for himself. His credo became "to create and foster livability in my homes, whatever the price."

"It's easy to build a large home; it takes expertise to make a small one livable," he adds proudly.

Weathered Cycles

As the firm grew, it expanded and diversified into commercial construction and major regional shopping centers. Along the way, it weathered every economic and market cycle typical of the housing industry and emerged as a stronger organization.

Its present staff of 225 is housed in 55,000-square-foot Irvine offices, headquarters since 1970, after the company moved that year from its previous headquarters on the Leffingwell Ranch in Whittier.

Lusk says: "The rate of failure in home building is about 90%, but if I were starting out today, I'd go into it . . . again."

His housing developments now dot the Southland map and even on the island of Hawaii. Two major current projects are under way near Sun City and in Chino Hills.

Major Commercial Project

On the commercial and industrial side are shopping centers and commercial buildings in San Clemente, Carlsbad, Riverside, Simi Valley and Ventura. Its most significant present industrial development is its role as managing partner of Ontario Industrial Partners, developing a $1-billion, 1,350-acre California Commerce Center adjoining Ontario International Airport.

In Carlsbad, the company is planning a project that will include a five-acre hotel site and 90 acres for multifamily housing. Lusk feels very strongly about that subject.

"We will definitely build more apartments, maybe as many as 1,000 units a year. If builders don't provide affordable housing, there will be public housing. Apartments can work for families with children, if the management is good."

Its diversification, under the direction of six regional divisions, deals almost equally among residential, commercial and industrial operations. Lusk now owns or controls more than 35,000 acres of land in San Diego, Irvine, Riverside, Whittier, Ventura, Oxnard, Hawaii and Northern California.

Works Closely With Son

Working closely with the veteran builder/developer and chairman of the board, have been his son, William D. Lusk, vice chairman, and Donovan D. Heunnekens, president. The younger Lusk heads marketing, government affairs and corporate relations activities while Heunnekens directs the operational affairs.

The senior Lusk was honored in 1983 as Builder of the Year by the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, as the City of Hope's Man of the year in 1975, and is a past director of the National Assn. of Home Builders and past president of the Building Contractors Assn. of Los Angeles.

More recently, he was the recipient of the National Human Relations Award of the American Jewish Committee and last September was named Scout of the Year by the Old Baldy Council, Boy Scouts of America.

Looking ahead, Lusk says the building industry has some new and difficult challenges:

Provide for Newcomers

"Probably the most important is to build affordable housing for the many thousands of newcomers to the area in which my company does business. Like the people who flocked to California after World War II, many of these newcomers are young and just starting families. They need homes they can afford.

"It is to this challenge--and many others that go along with the rapidly growing economy of Southern California--that the Lusk Co., is now dedicated. We plan to meet these challenges as effectively in the next 40 years as we have in the past."

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